Contractor Rufus McDonald, 52, is upset. He found historic papers of Harvard’s first black graduate, Richard T. Greener, in the attic of an abandoned home. He immediately offered to sell the papers to Harvard but was disappointed by the offer made by the school. Faced with what he describes as an insulting offer for such invaluable papers, McDonald announced that he would burn them unless people gave him more money.
What is curious is the McDonald, an African American, has been heralding the find and praising this pioneer in African-American history while promising to burn the collection unless people offer him more cash.
The discovery was described by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who leads Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African-American Research, as giving him “gooseflesh.” However, McDonald described the $7,500 offer from Harvard as “insulting” for documents that include Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma, which he says should be worth $65,000 alone. After all, he sold two of the documents for $52,000 to the University of South Carolina, where Greener also studied and taught.
Now, McDonald is literally holding a match to the collection and promising “I’ll roast and burn them.” He added “It might sound crazy, but people who know me know I’d really do it — I’m sick and tired of Harvard’s BS.” Hmmm, yes it “might sound crazy” to threaten to burn priceless historic documents and it hardly improves things that people who know you would attest that you are capable of such an atrocity.
Greener is the former dean of Howard University School of Law. A brilliant lawyer and diplomat, Greener was a friend of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington and overcame tremendous obstacles in this life. He was the son of a slave, left school at 14 and worked as a porter in a Boston hotel. He would later be assisted by white businessmen in applying to Harvard and eventually become the friend of U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner and President Ulysses Grant. In 1898, Greener was appointed by President McKinley as U.S. commercial agent at Vladivostok in Siberia. Greener would later leave his family and assume a common law marriage with a Japanese wife with whom he had three children. In 1905, he retired from the Foreign Service lived with cousins in Chicago from 1909 until his death in 1922. Presumably, this trunk with his papers never left Chicago after his death and was not found until the house was being demolished in 2013.
Lawyer, scholar, diplomat. That was quite a legacy . . . until of course a critical record of that legacy fell into the hands of Rufus McDonald.
McDonald insisted that he wants his piece of the action and was willing to torch history rather than allow the documents to be preserved at less of a profit to him.
[Update: this morning, McDonald says that he is probably not going to burn the papers and explained that he was just upset. That is a curious defense since many of us get upset but there remains a bit of space between that mood and announcing an intention to burn historic documents].
Source: Sun Times